The two major political parties in the ongoing campaign for the forthcoming governorship election in Edo State are embroiled in a blame game over the recent crisis in the state legislature. While the National Campaign Council of the All Progressives Congress, APC Governorship Election in Edo State accused the state governor, Godwin Obaseki of being the aggressor, the governor alleged that the opposition party in the state is guilty of what he described as a coup. The Campaign Council accused Governor Obaseki of having elongated the life of the crisis rocking the state Legislature which on August 6, 2020 snowballed into the ongoing siege on the Anthony Enahoro House of Assembly Complex. Chronicling the genesis of the crisis and all efforts to resolve it, Patrick Obahiagbon, Vice-Chairman, Media and Publicity Committee, of the Council, regretted that “At all points in time, the Governor found ways, both uncooperative and evasive, to resist the attempts at reconciliation and elongate the life of the crisis”.
Describing Obaseki as “clearly the aggressor in this plot,” Obahiagbon said he is “the one man who has refused the reign of peace, who has remained standing in the way of justice and fairness, who has put his knees on the neck of our democracy in Edo State”.
Going down memory lane, Obahiagbon in his address at a press conference on Friday titled “RE: GOVERNOR GODWIN OBASEKI AND THE EDO STATE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY…..LEST WE FORGET!” said it had become imperative for the party to remind Edo State citizens and Nigerians how the “Edo State government under the leadership of Governor Godwin Obaseki descended from the sublime to the ridiculous on the Edo State House of Assembly matter”. According to him, “it was the Governor’s penchant for jackboot democracy and political intimidation rather than persuasion and constructive engagement that got us to where we are just now on the Edo state house of Assembly matter”.
In his words, “Lest we forget, that the Edo House of Assembly saga, we must remind the world, began with the Edo state government’s unconstitutional bid to sideline majority lawmakers-elect, who he felt were not aligned to his political ideology. Lest we forget, that seeking to avoid the people’s representatives from expressing the people’s will in the House, Mr. Governor meddled into what ordinarily ought to be an independent matter of the legislature by orchestrating the exclusion of duly elected legislators in a sham inauguration. Lest we forget, that in an advertent and well-calculated move, the Obaseki-led government illegally swore in some members of the House under threat to their lives and unbridled executive intimidation and these details are still fresh in the public domain.
“Lest we forget, that in a graphic cameo, the Edo state government, kidnapped few members at the dead of the night, swore them in, effectively imposing a Speaker on them contrary to the clear provisions of section 92 of the 1999 constitution as amended. Lest we forget, that on the 18th of June 2019, the Edo state government went ahead to attack the excluded majority members with a mob of thugs and criminals supervised by Mr. Governor’s Chief Security Officer at the Golden Tulip Hotel where they had gone to seek refuge as their personal homes were subject of state-sponsored nefarious attacks.
“Lest we forget, that at some point in this long-standing drama, the party structure, from the national level, and also the Federal Government of Nigeria decided on an intervention. However, their efforts were met with stiff and overt resistance by the government of Godwin Obaseki”.
The Campaign Council noted that “First, were the intervention plans and missions from both the Federal House of Representatives and Nigerian Senate. All genuine efforts by both the Federal House of Representatives and Nigerian Senate to seek a peaceful resolution to the crisis did not enjoy the cooperation of the Governor and he in fact even threatened on one occasion that he will not be available to receive the Federal legislators”. Obahiagbon posited that in spite of his hostile attitude towards both the Federal House of Representatives and the Nigerian Senate, the committees set up by both chambers of the National Assembly still proceeded on their fact-finding mission to Edo State.
“They submitted their reports to their respective chambers and advised the Governor to issue a fresh proclamation and inaugurate all the 24 members. This advice fell on deaf ears as the Governor resorted to litigation to truncate the process of reconciliation. Even the attempts by some other Governors to resolve the issues peacefully also met with a rebuff by Governor Obaseki. It must be said that Governor Obaseki even hardened his heart to the reconciliation efforts made by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This was the height of arrogance and his anti-party disposition, ” Obahiagbon asserted.
He regretted that “It is the continuation of this disrespect and disregard for the law and constitution that manifested, albeit, not for the first time, on the 6th of August, 2020, wherein Governor Obaseki defiled and desecrated the sanctity of the Edo House of Assembly by mobilizing some of his party members and thugs to prevent elected members of the Edo state House of Assembly from performing their legitimate duties” adding that he had since relocated some seven members of the Edo State House of Assembly to be sitting in the premises of Government House, Osadebey Avenue, Benin City, just to prevent access of the State House of Assembly to the 17 majority members.
Exonerating the APC from the invasion of the House of Assembly, Obahiagbon said “We must set the records straight by letting the world know that it was the Governor who led party members and thugs, who were armed to the teeth, to the premises of the State House of Assembly yesterday just for the singular purpose of preventing the majority seventeen members of the State House of Assembly from performing their legitimate parliamentary duties.
“It is good to observe that the Police made arrests of not less than seven of these thugs who were armed with five double-barrel long guns, two single-barrel long guns, and ten live cartridges within the Edo State House of Assembly premises. We call on the Police to conduct a transparent investigation on who were their sponsors and prosecute all those arrested and make sure the full weight of the law is brought to bear on those arrested and their sponsors.
“On this occasion, the Governor supervised both the vandalisation of the State House of Assembly by ordering the removal of its rooftops, carting away public properties from the House of Assembly and tipping trucks of granite sand at the front of the gate of the House of Assembly’s premises”. Obahiagbon wondered if these actions by the governor were “to prove to the whole world that both himself and the Deputy Governor enjoys immunity as he has boasted” and if it was “as a result of this naked display of his immunity that the Commissioner of Police became overwhelmed and was now unable to allow the seventeen majority members of the House of Assembly access to conduct their peaceful parliamentary sitting”.
Assuring the people of Edo State and Nigerians that the September 19 governorship election would be very peaceful and free of violence, Obahiagbon concluded that “The 7th Assembly which Mr. Governor has since allegedly inaugurated and formed now has a new Speaker in the person of Rt. Hon. Victor Edoror, who has been elected by a seventeen-member majority over seven members, to lead the House. It is time for Mr. Obaseki to end his assault on law and order, and unclasp his anti-democratic grip on the Legislative arm of government so it can offer representation to the people of Edo State”.
But on the other side, the governor is accusing the APC of being the brain behind the crisis. Stating its position on the invasion of the House by hoodlums, the state government described it as an attempted coup d’état that was tantamount to treason and contrary to the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution. In a statewide broadcast on Friday, Obaseki assured that his administration would take all steps necessary to defend the rule of law and democratic ideals.
“Any person or group of persons who set out to test our will in this regard will meet with the full wrath of the law. These events portend grave danger to the safety and security of our polity. It had all the hallmarks of an attempted coup d’état. The people of Edo State rose as one to prevent the desecration of our democracy. It is however worrisome that certain persons are willing to plunge the society into avoidable anarchy and conflict just to satisfy their illegitimate objectives.”
The governor traced the crisis in the legislature to June 17, 2019, “when upon my proclamation of the 7th Edo State House of Assembly, some members-elect refused to present themselves for inauguration. The Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State in a judgment delivered on the 12th of September, 2019, decided that my proclamation of the House of Assembly was lawful and that the National Assembly could not take over the function of the Edo State House of Assembly as the conditions for doing so did not exist. The court judgment affirmed that the Assembly was duly inaugurated and held that the Governor or any other person could not issue another proclamation.”
According to Obaseki, “Even after this judgment the 14 members-elect stayed away from the House and refused to be inaugurated to perform their elected role of representing their constituencies. Having failed to sit for over 180 sitting days, the leadership of the House of Assembly had no option but to declare their seats vacant and requested the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct fresh elections to fill the vacancies that had then been created.
“Following this action by the leadership of the House, the 14 members-elect approached the Federal High Court, Abuja, to challenge the constitutionality or otherwise of the declaration of their seats vacant. This suit is still pending in the court.”
Obaseki explained that “This unfortunate situation has festered because a former governor of the state is bent on throwing the state into crisis ahead of the forthcoming governorship elections”. Speaking on the emergence of a parallel legislature, the governor praised “the resolve of all well-meaning Edo people in standing up to thwart the evil plans of these undemocratic elements who are bent on perpetrating an illegal assault on our democracy by the purported inauguration in a private residence.”
The crisis at the legislature has further expanded the hostility between the two major political parties ahead of the election. This has increased fears that the election may be violent. It is yet to be seen how this will be resolved.